Why Have Some Sonny's BBQ Restaurants Closed?

Sonny's BBQ is a barbecue restaurant chain that started in Florida. Is Sonny's BBQ going out of business? Or is it just some franchise locations?

Kathryn Underwood - Author

Jan. 31 2023, Published 2:06 p.m. ET

Sonny's BBQ
Source: Sonny's BBQ Facebook

If you're a fan of BBQ and pulled pork sandwiches, you might want to head to the closest Sonny's BBQ. The chain of BBQ restaurants that started in 1968 is still going strong in 2023, though some locations have closed recently. Is Sonny's BBQ going out of business, or only a few franchise locations?

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The restaurant chain has a number of locations, although you can't get Sonny's BBQ just anywhere in the U.S. Currently there are Sonny's BBQ joints in eight states in the southeastern part of the U.S.

Sonny's BBQ logo
Source: Sonnys BBQ Facebook
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Sonny's BBQ has a menu focused on barbecued meats and southern sides.

As you might expect, the star of the show at Sonny's BBQ is the barbecued meat. The company started in 1968 when founder Floyd "Sonny" Tillman and his wife Lucille opened its first location in Gainesville, Fla. By 1977, Sonny's BBQ had become a chain with multiple franchises.

Sonny's is best known for its slow-smoked meats, including St. Louis Ribs, pulled or sliced pork, beef brisket, chicken, and baby back ribs. The restaurant also features comforting appetizers like BBQ pork egg rolls, loaded tater tots, wings, fried okra, and corn nuggets.

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Side dishes at Sonny's, which are called Sidekicks, include BBQ beans, homestyle mac and cheese, fries, coleslaw, and more. Desserts and a selection of kids' meals are also offered.

A Sonny's BBQ sandwich
Source: Sonny's BBQ Facebook
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Did Sonny's BBQ go out of business?

Those who enjoy dining at Sonny's BBQ will be glad to know that the chain of restaurants isn't closing fully. However, a few locations have closed in recent years. In December 2021, the Sonny's in Fort Myers, Fla. closed its doors permanently, making way for a Mitchell's Barbecue in the same building. An Oakwood, Fla. location closed in 2019.

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How many locations of Sonny's BBQ are there?

Sonny's BBQ actually was founded under a different name. When "Sonny" Tillman opened the first restaurant on April 17, 1968, it was named Sonny's Real-Pit-Bar-B-Q. In 1988, Tillman sold the company to outside investors, at which point it had 77 restaurants operating in six states.

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The company website says it has stayed true to the original founders' values. "We still serve generous portions slathered in Southern hospitality. And we still believe people should be able to go out to eat and feel right at home."

Bob Yarmuth bought the company in 1991. According to Wikipedia, at its peak during the 2000s, Sonny's BBQ had about 150 locations in nine states. This made it the largest barbecue restaurant chain in the U.S. Today, there are over 100 Sonny's locations found in 8 states.

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Sonny's BBQ food
Source: Sonny's BBQ Facebook

BBQ fans can find a Sonny's BBQ franchise location in the following states: Alabama, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Mississippi, Kentucky, Georgia, and Louisiana.

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Who bought Sonny's BBQ?

After buying Sonny's BBQ in 1991, Bob Yarmuth is still the owner today. He serves as chairman of Sonny's BBQ, while James Yarmuth is the president and CEO. Yarmuth purchased his first franchise of the restaurant in 1980.

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Other milestones in Sonny's BBQ history include:

  • 1998: the 100th Sonny's restaurant opened
  • 2013: the company underwent a brand refresh to Sonny's BBQ
  • 2016: Sonny's established Oct. 16 as National Pulled Pork Day
  • 2016: Sonny's broke the Guinness record for the largest pulled pork sandwich

How much is Sonny's BBQ worth?

Though the total revenue and value of Sonny's BBQ isn't public knowledge, the company provides information for potential franchisees on the investment opportunity. According to a franchisee survey, the average annual sales per restaurant by the end of 2021 was $3.044 million. Also, 47.73 percent of responding restaurants reached or exceeded that sales level.

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